Google “the road less traveled” and you’ll find Land Rover’s latest video campaign at the top of the search results. It’s the kind of inspirational phrase that can sell everything from cars to destinations. While most consumers probably recognize the line from poet Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, they probably haven’t read the entire poem in years, if at all. And that’s a shame, because the line has been used so often in advertising and promotional campaigns that it’s become cliche.
Advertisers have also distorted the meaning of Frost’s resonant reflection on the difficulty of choosing between two equal paths. Pulled out of context and used to sell one product over another, this line has taken on the opposite meaning.
If you’re trying to capture the often almost indescribable feelings of wonder, freedom, joy, love and connection that are marketing’s holy grail, it’s easy to resort to cliched phrases and empty words. Spend any time on the internet and you’ll quickly be underwhelmed by awesome, amazing, epic and thousands of other tired old adjectives that don’t even come close. Because poetry deals in layers of meaning that can’t be parsed by autocorrect or reproduced by robots, it is the most human form of communication. At the nexus of story and music, it’s an oral tradition that pre-dates the written word. The word itself comes from the Greek poien, meaning to make, create or compose.
If more advertisers consumed poetry — in written, audio, video or graphic form — they’d discover a realm of poetic magic to say universal things in new and unexpected ways. In the Academy of American Poets’ online library, you can search for poetry by place, occasion, emotion, color, time period or any of combination of terms. You can also order the funny, free National Poetry Month poster with illustrations by cartoonist Roz Chast and words by poet Mark Strand: “Ink runs/from the corners/of my mouth./There is no happiness/like mine./I have been eating/poetry.”
So, marketers, celebrate National Poetry Month by ditching the road more traveled and discovering a different way. Better yet, work with someone who can bend language into new shapes, rock a Twitter stream with wordplay, launch a haiku campaign or envision a new journey for your brand. #HireAPoet and help a true creative put real food on the table.
Laguna Beach writer Ellen Girardeau Kempler is an award-winning poet with master’s degree in mass communications. Three years ago she left her marketing career to launch Gold Boat Journeys: Mind Trips for Writers. She is a proud proponent of the Poetry Diet. #NationalPoetryMonth #HireAPoet